Pornography

Raise Your Own Damn Children, Porn Edition

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Noam Millman responds to Damon Linker and me on sex work and people's adult children going into it.

Linker suggested folks rethink their morally-permissive attitudes toward porn in light of the fact that someday their children could become porn stars. I said the idea that your child could wind up in porn, prostitution, or other erotic arenas was a good argument for decriminalizing and destigmatizing such pursuits. "You could call this a 'moral libertarian' version of Rawls's veil of ignorance," Millman writes of my position.  

We don't know what our daughter might decide to do when she is of age. She might decide to have sex for money. Therefore, we should examine our political (and moral) attitudes with a view to who would be most harmed by them – and the person most harmed by a morally condemnatory attitude is the daughter who decides to have sex for money, and would be condemned for it.

As with Rawls's own perspective, this makes perfect sense if you take the existing distribution is a given – in Rawls's case, of wealth; in Nolan Brown's, of life choices. If you don't assume that – if you assume instead that redistribution of wealth will lead to less production of wealth overall, or that a permissive moral attitude will lead to an increase in objectively poorer life choices – then you can't blithely say that the only thing that matters is harm reduction for those who make those choices. You have to weigh the costs on all sides of the equation. This much should be obvious.

But I still think Nolan Brown's critique has teeth, because she's drawing a distinction between the daughter as thought experiment and the daughter in reality.

Linker's daughter-in-porn is a hypothetical. His attitude – he would be appalled – is rooted in the fact that his daughter is not involved in porn, and he hopes she never is. If a grown daughter of his actually were having sex for money, his attitude would unquestionably change.

How would it change? I'm going to assume that this (hypothetical) Linker would make a priority of his daughter's well-being, so I can rule out reactions like killing his daughter for the sake of the family's honor – or, for that matter, cutting off all contact with her for the sake of protecting the virtue of a (hypothetical) younger daughter. In other words, I'm going to assume that if his hypothetical became actual, Linker would actually take an approach something akin to what Nolan Brown hypothesizes. He would likely worry about his daughter being exploited – which might lead him to try to get her out of the business, or might lead him to fight to make sure the business is properly regulated, or any number of other reactions. But I strongly suspect that revulsion, which he previously felt, would no longer hold a place in his heart, not if he valued his relationship with his daughter. And that change, in turn, would change the baseline from which other people judged their own hypothetical daughters' choices.

@VanityFair/Twitter

As a counter-thought-experiment, Millman asks how people would feel about an actress daughter getting a big break on the TV show Game of Thrones—and appearing fully nude, in a simulated sex scene: 

Do you have qualms now? If you don't, then I'd say all we're doing is haggling over the price. … If you do have qualms, then clearly you should recognize that your private judgments are not universal. There are just too many actresses competing for those kinds of parts, and too many of those actresses have fathers. You should be open to the possibility that our "morally libertarian" moment has already significantly changed what we actually feel to be base, and may change it further. And so you can't just use your gut as a guide either to whether we're all acting in bad faith, nor to what is "essentially" base or noble.

It's also terrible policy to make laws based on what you would want for your own offspring because, as Adam Ozimek points out at Forbes, "this is a country of free people," not millions of your kids. 

Whether you'd want your kid to do something is a terrible, selfish, and self-centered way to think about policy. You hear this kind of argument when it comes to drug use too. "Do you really want your kid to be able to smoke pot?" But the laws of this country aren't the rules of your household. Stopping your kid from smoking pot or becoming a prostitute isn't our job, it's yours. 

Hear, hear! But while Millman seems to agree on this front, he suggests that the level of exploitation and danger he imagines in the porn industry may justify trying to discourage its existance. Sure, "questions of exploitation are relevant to all industries–even high paying ones," he acknowleges, but "consent to sex is more fraught and more fragile than consent to being a forklift operator."

This, however, depends on how you define "fraught and fragile." I'm guessing not many people take forklift-driving positions because they just adore the work. People take jobs as forklift drivers for the same reason people take jobs in porn—to make a living—and we don't hear complaints that this situation exploits forklift drivers because they are under economic pressure to accept dangerous work. Yet according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there are about 85 deaths and 34,900 serious injuries related to forklifts each year, with 42 percent of these involving the forklift operator being crushed by a tipping vehicle. How many people are killed each year by porn?

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  1. How many people are killed each year by porn?

    I believe the answer here is tied to one’s religious beliefs.

    1. Not to mention if you’re in a Muslim-controlled country that’s hardcore Sharia-compliant, participating in or even viewing porn could get your head severed or caved in by stones.

  2. I had a great argument once on here with Kerry Howley. Howley used to write for Reason and was the portrait of the top shelf white girl. She claimed that being a hooker was no different than any other profession. My response to that was “okay, then why don’t you do it yourself?” The money is great and Howley had always claimed how sex positive she was, so why not. She never really could come up with a reason other than “but I don’t want to”.

    I really think that if you are going to look at porn or frequent hookers, you ought to be honest enough to say “if my daughter or my sister choose to do that to make a living, that is fine with me”. Understand there is a difference between saying something should be legal and actually doing that something. It perfectly fine to say you think being a porn star or a hooker is degrading and awful but it is a free country and people should be free to make their own decisions. It is perfectly fine to say it is objectionable but should be legal. But if you think porn is good enough for you to look at it or hookers are good enough for you to pay to see one, then I think you ought to think it is fine foe even someone you love to be on the other end of that. Maybe you hope they do better and get a different and easier job. But ultimately, you can’t say they are degraded by doing it or are not making an honest and worthy, if difficult living. If you think they are not, you shouldn’t be paying for other people to degrade themselves.

    1. If you think they are not, you shouldn’t be paying for other people to degrade themselves.

      But what if that’s exactly what turns me on?

      1. I fear your links, but click on them anyway. It’s like playing Russian roulette on my work PC.

        1. The illicit frisson of delight from gambling on an HM link can be addictive, no?

    2. so Kerry gave the exact argument that you are giving, and she’s wrong? I daresay one of the cornerstones of libertarianism would be upholding the right of someone else to do things irrespective of my view of those things, so long as force was not involved.

      Do I want my kids in porn? Not particularly. But on the rare chance it happens, I’ll live with the principle.

      1. No she didn’t. She wouldn’t admit that she objected to being a hooker. She tried to have it both ways. Ultimately Howley was an elitist who thought being a hooker was just great, for lesser women but not her.

        1. I don’t see how that’s fair. Did you need her to come out and say “the only cock I want inside me is my husband’s”? I think “because I don’t want to” should be sufficient.

          It seems pretty easy to me to think of non-judgmental reasons, prudish or otherwise, not to be a hooker/porn star. But those reasons could easily be personal enough to not feel the need to share it amongst the H&R commentariat.

          1. She wasn’t married at the time. As far as prudish reasons? Maybe. If you said, I am just too shy and could never do it, that is valid. But she never said that.

            1. Jesus Christ, John, do we have to spell it out for you? When you wrote “”okay, then why don’t you do it yourself?” Howley thought you were encouraging her to go freelance. Everyone on the street knew that Will ‘Slick Willie’ Wilkinson was the pimp who turned her out. A Slick Willie is a gorilla mack. If he even had a notion that his bitch was thinking of leaving his stable, he would have broken his foot off in her ass so hard that you could have measured that shit on the Richter scale.

            2. “I don’t want to” is reason enough. Lots of jobs I don’t want to do, not because they are beneath me or I think no one should do them. I just don’t want to. If others do, more power and the attendant money to them.

            3. The point is that someone can NOT WANT TO DO SOMETHING and still be all right with it. Someone can NOT WANT TO DO SOMETHING while still availing themselves of those services.

              If you’ve ever eaten fast food, while not currently working at a fast food restaraunt, then you can understand the point. You can be happy with a service, and even use a service, while still not wanting to be a part of that industry.

              It’s the people who use them and then put them down and act as if they shouldn’t exist that are the hypocrites.

        2. My GF’s son feels the same way about flipping burgers.

          1. He needs to grow the fuck up.

            1. He’s done a lot of that since getting a job at the paint store. I never actually got the feeling he looked down on people who did flip burgers, he just didn’t want to be one of them. I give Howley the same consideration.

        3. her saying that being a hooker is no different than any other job does not obligate her to do that job. That doesn’t make her an elitist; it makes her a woman who made her own decision and did not bitch about the choices other females made.

        4. Um, no. Howley doesn’t want to be paid for sex, but doesn’t object if someone else does. That doesn’t mean that she looks down on them, as perhaps you do.

          I’ve been singing and acting for 50 years. There are lots of people who want to be professional actors and musicians and make bunches of money, but I’m not one of them. I volunteer with community choirs, church choirs, little theater, etc. (And yes, I’ve been offered, and have turned down, paying gigs. I perform for fun, and don’t want that to change.) I certainly don’t think people who get paid are in any way “lesser.”

          OTOH, I do get paid for my writing, while others publish voluntarily. I don’t look down on them, either.

    3. Porn and hooking are considered degrading because they are considered degrading. That can be changed.

      Hooking can be terrible, because it is illegal. And it’s impossible to live a normal life which includes buying stuff on credit (cars and houses) and paying your taxes so long as your work is illegal.

      Porn and hooking are not inherently bad jobs. Society makes them bad jobs. It is not hypocritical to campaign to make them less bad jobs while declining to take those jobs while they remain bad jobs.

      1. The illegal part is certainly a reason not to do it. But assume for argument it is legal.

        1. If it was legal, a guy could get an appointment for a manicure and a handjob at the same shop. The going rate for the two would be about the same I imagine.

          The clientele would improve, because the bad guys would get black listed at best or find themselves in a cell at worst.

          I can’t imagine that sex work would be worse than scrubbing toilets at some Canadian firm like Burger King.

          1. “Scrubbing toilets”

            Isn’t that a degrading sex position already?

    4. She did the same thing, the much, much harder way: as an egg donor.

    5. Being a sex worker is not right for everyone regardless of how sex positive or pro decriminalization they may be. Actors can make a lot of money, if they become stars and have either a string of hit movies or are cast in a popular tv show… Cast of the Big Bang Theory are now making $1,000,000 per episode.

      But there are reasons not everyone would want to go into show business, even if they liked to act and thought they were talented enough to become a star. Maybe they just don’t want to, because of what they may have to give up.

      Sex workers give up the ability to live stigma free in a world filled with ignorant, bigoted people who will condemn them and brand them for as long as they live. Some must live double lives lest some well meaning family member turns them into the cops out of a perverted sense of ‘saving them from exploitation’ or some other nonsense. Even those of us who are publicly out as sex workers find the stigma follows us long after we retire, especially if we do not express remorse or repent for our ‘sins’.

      So, I can understand why Kerry might not have wanted to join our ranks, because it is a difficult path to take, even for those of us who love our work. If I had it to do all over again, I would still have chosen this path. Sex work was the best job I ever had, far better than the job I had before that, working for the LAPD for ten miserable years.

  3. She never really could come up with a reason other than “but I don’t want to”.

    Which is all the answer anyone ever needs to give. I’ve been asked if I wanted to be a CEO. That was basically the answer I gave.

    1. Which is all the answer anyone ever needs to give.

      In this case, it was not all the answer she needed to give. It was an evasive and dishonest answer. The fact is she couldn’t give a reason why she wouldn’t be a hooker, because the real reason was she considered it degrading but wasn’t honest enough to admit it.

      1. Uh, you’re reading a hell of a lot into Howley’s answer, John. It’s a perfectly valid thing to say she doesn’t want to be a hooker, and not because she thinks it’s degrading, just because it isn’t for her. I would never be a plumber; it’s not that I think it’s degrading, I would just hate the work. Yet you’re saying Howley can’t give the same answer without you interpreting her own answer for her.

        1. Except that she could never really explain why it wasn’t for her. You don’t want to be a plumber and can give about 20 good reasons why “the hours suck, the work is hard,” and so forth. Howley never could give any reasons like that. Indeed, the hours for being a hooker don’t suck and the money is great. So why not? The answer is of course Howley would consider having sex with very strangers for money degrading and awful, which of course is her right. I just wanted her to be honest about it.

          1. I can think of several other rational and plausible reasons why someone like Howley wouldn’t want to be a prostitute.
            Perhaps she values her personal romantic relationships and knows that the people she is likely to be with aren’t likely to be able to handle her doing that kind of work very well. Or she just isn’t into casual sex that much and thinks her talents as a writer will take her farther.
            Your explanation is quite plausible as well, but isn’t quite so obvious as you make out.

          2. Except that that’s total bullshit. You want her to think hooking is degrading, because you do. It’s a perfectly valid thing to say “having sex with strangers for money is not for me” and not think it’s degrading and that all women who do it are scum. Kerry doesn’t have to give you a specific reason, and the idea that you get to demand one from her is laughable. I wouldn’t give you an answer either, because it’s incredibly obvious that you already know what you think Kerry was thinking, and what she might be actually thinking is irrelevant to you.

            1. It’s a perfectly valid thing to say “having sex with strangers for money is not for me”

            2. Fuck the Reason squirells

              That is not an acceptable answer if you are unwilling to explain why or admit that if the other options were bad enough you would do it.

              You would be a plumber if it was that or living on the streets right? ENB gives the honest answer that Howley wouldn’t give below. Howley was full of shit and trying to have it both ways.

              And I don’t think being a hooker is degrading. You just think I do because you want to change the subject.

              1. Elizabeth was willing to answer your question even while having no obligation to do so. Kerry wasn’t. I’m not trying to change any subject, I’m just pointing out that even though Kerry had no obligation whatsoever to give you an answer, you still took her lack of answer to mean exactly what you wanted it to, even though you have no other evidence than (as you say above), you think she’s a “top shelf white girl” and “elitist”.

                I mean, you’re so obviously biased it’s ridiculous. I would imagine Kerry was thinking that no matter what answer she gave, you’d still come to the same conclusion. And I’m pretty sure that’s what you would have done. Because as far as you are concerned, you have her number and know what she’s thinking, because you are a mindreader.

          3. Even if she WOULD feel degraded as a hooker, that doesn’t mean other people would.

            And feeling degraded as a hooker is a perfectly good reason to NOT WANT TO DO IT.

      2. I mean, there are plenty of reasons why one wouldn’t want to have sex for money oneself that don’t mean you find it inherently degrading. Maybe you don’t like sex that much, or are body-conscious, or no good at scheduling…

        I would rather be a writer than a prostitute, but I’d definitely consider prostitute over a lot of other jobs.

        1. I would rather be a writer than a prostitute, but I’d definitely consider prostitute over a lot of other jobs.

          And that Elizabeth was the answer that Howley was never honest enough to give.

          And frankly, I am not sure being a hooker isn’t better than being a writer. Being a writer is horrible work that pays terrible and is only fun to say you do it when you are not actually doing it. 😉

          1. Tell that to Stephen King, or Dean Koontz, or Issac Asimov, or. . .uh. . .the bible!

            The point is, there are high end writers who probably love what they do, just like there are $10,000 a night hookers who just fucking LOVE their jobs.

            What’s the big deal? You have a serious hate-on for this woman.

  4. Good news…

    My kids look like me, so if they’re depending on porn for a living, they’ll probably starve.

    1. Sex work has the same problem any other purely physical work has, there is no future in it after you get old. The problem with being a hooker or a stripper is that the money is easy and large so it is awfully difficult to walk away from and into a regular job. But eventually,the money dries up and what then?

      For some women, it beats the available alternatives at the time. But, it is not something with a very bright future.

      1. Older whores just need to specialize.

        1. Or work their way into management – that’s what smart construction workers do.

          1. Todays whores are tomorrows pimps.

            Prepare yourself, I hear it isn’t easy.

      2. I imagine pro sports players face much the same problem. And probably just as many STDs.

        1. Plus brain damage.

          1. Ringworm

      3. the money is easy and large

        The intertubes tells me that the price for hookers is collapsing.

        1. I don’t keep track of that. I would assume it is somewhere north of $100 an hour. That sounds like pretty good wages to me.

          1. That’s shit money. That doesn’t count solicitation time and other expenses.

            But it is Tax Free!

          2. It was in a news report in the last week. Between the recession and the new hook-up culture, demand is falling and prices are going down. Actual pricing wasn’t mentioned.

          3. I dunno, I mean, if I could work during the day and make $100 an hour in my spare time, maybe just for spending money, then I might do it.

            Besides, it means I’d be getting LAID, too! Sounds like a good deal for the young and hard-up.

        2. Depends on where and how you work. Some are still making $2,000 an hour…

      4. what then?

        Sugar daddy. Just need to time it to get your hooks in before you trail off too much.

        Or you leverage your experience to become a Madame (or if Porn, a Director).

      5. Sex work has the same problem any other purely physical work has, there is no future in it after you get old.

        The unions will fix that. Seniority, donchaknow.

        1. Seniority

          I think I’ve seen that porno.

      6. After you get old & experienced, you become a mgr.

      7. So men should not go into sports because there is no future for them when they get old….

        Actually, the women in this business who are older are making more money than the younger ones just starting out. And one of my good friends who did both porn and prostitution was working and seeing her regular clients up until she was 70. She was in great shape and her guys loved her.

        Do I need to give a reason why I chose to become a sex worker, or can you go with the fact that I just liked the work? You sound like the abolitionists who want to disparage our choices… just the fact that we said it is our choice isn’t good enough for them… Oh, and I don’t have a problem with Kelly not wanting to be a sex worker, I don’t think she is an elitist or looks down on me or my colleagues. Sex work is not for everyone.

    2. That doesn’t matter as much as you’re implying. Even into the teeth of Hi Def streaming, the make-up artists on today’s sets should earn millions for their craft.

  5. It seems to me that what the modern day progressive movement is all about, is really not so different from what we’ve always had, religions who pass judgement on personal behavior and deal out punishment when someone strays from those accepted behaviors.

    So in times long past, we actually had morality police who claimed that a perfect incorruptible god told them what was or was not morally acceptable personal behavior. Back then, anyone who got accused of straying from those acceptable behaviors could face real corporal punishment.

    Then, we seemed to have entered a more enlightened age where the moral infidels were just threatened with ‘eternal hell’ in an afterlife or maybe social ostracization.

    But now, the ‘progressives’ are returning us to a form of the past, where the only difference is that the dungeon keepers are gods who are human and imperfect (but we’re willing to turn a blind eye to their imperfection for the collective good) who are perfectly willing to use force against the moral infidels.

    1. Progressivism is absolutely a religion. Its main difference from other religions is that it insists it is not one even while people behave pretty much exactly as if it is.

  6. What amazes me about this stuff is that people actually change their minds based on arguments like “what if your daughter did it?”. Really, you never thought about that before? Are so many people really so narrow minded? It’s a lot like people re-thinking their position on guns when some horrible incident happens. You really didn’t consider that these things are possible?

    1. It goes back to my theory that they are just stunted teenagers. You would think they would have thought about that.

      If the thought of your daughter being a stripper really bothers you, maybe you ought not to frequent strip joints. Just a thought.

  7. WTF is “moral libertarianism”?

    I think I know what they mean but I don’t see what the “l” word has to do with it.

    1. Yeah, it’s a strange and imprecise term for sure

      1. Believe it or not, ENB, Damon linker has a PhD in Political Theory.

        Also, has anyone ever told you that your name makes you sound like a suffragette? (Suffragettes are heroines, BTW; I’m totally in favor of a lady’s right to vote.)

        1. After her husband was executed for his raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, ENB had to start advocating for women’s sufferage to maintain he ability to participate in the political process!

        2. I’ve always felt that “Heroine” was to druggy a word for what it is meant as.

          We should start calling them “Bitches”. Yeah. I think they’ll go for that. Good, strong word.

          /Joke?

          Please don’t hit me. . .

    2. SIV,

      Thank you, I was wondering the same thing.

  8. Ob Chris Rock routine about keeping your daughter “off the pole”.

  9. Dear daughter,

    You know your father and I support you in everything you do, but your father has some concerns about you appearing in Bikers Bang Bad Girls 17. While he’s enthusiastic about seeing other men’s daughters having trains run on them by tatted-up bikers, he sees you being in this installment as “a real boner killer.”

    You know he hates feet. Have you considered doing foot porn? We didn’t make you wear orthopedically correct shoes all through school for nothing.

    Love
    Mom

    PS You should see Dr. Smith about those razor bumps they look infected. You’re still on our insurance for eight more years. You might as well use it.

    1. but what if it’s gay porn?

      1. I feel like the response would be essentially the same. Unless the father is catching the son do gay porn and then telling the wife about it. There’s a quirky family dynamic for you.

  10. Fortunately, all my kids are already porn stars, so I don’t have to worry about all this hypothetical shit.

    1. And yet you’re a hypocrite. FOR SHAME!

      /John

  11. I’m all for legal prostitution, but I don’t understand why the author and others above want to pretend it isn’t degrading.

    Frankly, sex can be degrading even if there’s no money involved. Drain it of any affection between the participants, reducing it to a mere commercial transaction, and it becomes more likely one of the participants is going to leave feeling a bit…undignified. Not much different than when I had that construction job in college, connecting new water and sewage lines to existing infrastructure.

    Also, men traditionally don’t find it desirable to form long term pair bonds with women who will put out for anybody with $100 in cash. It indicates they’re unlikely to be monagamous and are lacking in intellectual ability; ie, their brains aren’t much use for obtaining high status work, so they’re stuck doing low status, unintellectual work instead. Ergo, if your daughter winds up working as a prostitute, her odds of finding a healthy, stable, long-term relationship decrease substantially, and her odds of shacking up with some heavily tattooed biker with a criminal record and marginal employment prospects go way up.

    If you’re unlucky enough to get a grandkid out of this kind of relationship, you can count on him/her being raised among all kinds of unsavory types, exposed to all sorts of social pathologies and dysfunction, all of which are likely to contribute to his making the excellent choice to start huffing paint when his meth dealer gets sent to jail.

  12. Americans have come to pride themselves on their moral libertarianism.

    WHAT? Compared to Saudi Arabia, maybe.

    1. What’s more American than being proud of personal qualities you don’t actually possess?

  13. As I see it, there’s *pragmatic* arguments for legalizing prostitution, but “consent” is going to be hard to fly, because a significant part of prostitution (I’m told) is husbands cheating on their wives by having sex with hookers. The wives generally don’t consent.

    So I think it’s necessary to get out of the realm of libertarian purism and consider the cost/benefit analysis of having prostitution be a crime.

    1. Why would the husbands need their wives have to consent to their having sex with a prostitutes? If that justifies a criminalizing prostitution, you can justify criminalizing anything.

  14. Game of Thrones is very popular all over the world and so many roles are interesting and funny , and the queen might decide to have sex for money.

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