Monday, September 10, 2007

Strange compulsions of the human heart

There's some understandable soul-searching going on in Israel at the moment, after it was revealed that popular 1960s pornographic novellas called Stalags, which depicted sexual torture and humiliation of POWs by buxom, whip wielding Nazi officers in boots, were produced by Israeli teams of writers and artists and not the English authors they were previously attributed to:

The plot usually ended with the male protagonists taking revenge, by raping and killing their tormentors.
“I realized that the first Holocaust pictures I saw, as one who grew up here, were of naked women,” said Ari Libsker, whose documentary film “Stalags: Holocaust and Pornography in Israel” had its premiere at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July and is to be broadcast in October and shown in movie theaters. “We were in elementary school,” he noted. “I remember how embarrassed we were.”
At first sight, it's strange that in Israel of all places the memory of the Holocaust period should have been transformed into a popular series of titillating books, but then the relationship of sex to power is a strong one.

A mainstream novellist friend who has also written for the erotic imprint Black Lace told me about a survey that publisher made of their readership - almost entirely female, mainly affluent. Ravishment is the thing, it seems. Pirates and Highwaymen featured strongly in the fantasies. And of course, the Bondage, power-exchange and sado-masochistic subcultures have never been more mainstream, nor more popular. As the BackLash campaign points out, people involved make up:
an estimated 10% of the adult population, i.e. up to 4 million people (a News of the World survey found that around 50% of people had at sometime engaged in some form of BDSM activity)
But this government wants to criminalise people who act on this sort of desire by seeking out relevant pornography. There's a deeply puritan element to Labour, coupled with a feminist agenda: while male submissiveness is most notorious, by far the majority of this sort of conduct involves submissive women, and they hate that fact.

This is a process of totalitarianism by salami slicer. H.L. Menken understood the need to defend people with whom one does not necessarily sympathise:
"The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all."
And so the attacks begin with smokers and people with minority sexual tastes, for whom it might be hard to generate widespread public sympathy. But they won't end there, and we are all part of some minority or another. But even if we weren't, the only reasonable function of a state is to guarantee as much freedom as possible, and thereby the maximum possibility for personal fulfilment, to each individual. The persecution of a minority by the majority is grotesque but, though that is widely accepted, such persecution is also increasingly commonplace.

Puritanism, man hatred and a hatred of women who make themselves available to men on terms which are disapproved of all come to bear on the subject of prostitution. New legislation has been proposed:
Men who pay for sex could be prosecuted under new government plans to cut down on prostitution.

Ministers are debating whether to make the purchase of sex illegal instead of the sale of sex as is currently the case.

Individuals caught kerb-crawling would also be named and shamed as part of the proposals currently under discussion.

The government is trying to stop the growing problem of sex trafficking in the UK with increasing numbers immigrants coming here to work as prostitutes. According to the latest statistics, 85 per cent of women in brothels are from overseas.
No, the government isn't trying to do that. The way to curb what sometimes boils down to straightforward slavery is to legalise, license and regulate prostitution. No consensual adult activity has ever been prohibited successfully, and prostitution is often entirely consensual. Prohibition has always resulted in horrors - the handing over of entire industries to organised crime - and it always will.

Alongside the willing whores, the unwilling ones will remain. Just imagine the levels of coercion that a gangster would consider appropriate to intimidate unwilling smuggled prostitutes to the point where their newly vulnerable male clients might feel confident that no identities will ever be revealed. This is a recipe for horror piled upon horror. The rise of sex slavery has accompanied not a decriminalisation of the purchase of sex, because that hasn't happened. It has accompanied changes to immigration laws, changes that are held dear by the ministers who are proposing these changes. They have created the problem and now they are proposing to punish men they dislike, while making matters worse for the women involved.

Presumably, their pleasure at the prospect of the former outweighs any conscience they might have about the latter.

[UPDATE: I ought to make it clear that people with minority sexual interests are not "scoundrels". That just happens to be a word Menken was particularly fond of. People are entitled to engage in whatever consensual sexual activities they wish, preferably in private.]

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