It’s Friday the 13th today, and it’s also a full moon. Time to let all your phobias have their say. But before you give full expression to your triskaidekaphobia, paraskevidekatriaphobia, and friggatriskaidekaphobia; and to your selenophobia respectively, just remember that in other parts of the world Friday is the day of prayer and where 13 is considered a lucky number.
But enough of this; the blogger Maggie McNeill asks for commentaries on every Friday 13th, to show support for her cause, and this is mine.
This began when I offered to help a provider on media presentations; I’ve not met her; our proposed lunch was cancelled after she injured herself. I’m still working on ideas for people to use when appearing on the media, whether as an expert called up for a snappy, instant reaction, someone at a round table, or the subject of an interview or examination by a group of politicians. I’d been watching the evidence that some people were giving to the Justice Committee of the N Ireland Assembly; often, it seemed to me, that those asking the questions were making ad hominem attacks, and also hijacking the witnesses. It wasn’t at all a salubrious experience for these witnesses. Unless, unsurprisingly, if the witness agreed with the members of the Committee, when they were very nice.
And thinking about the politicians led me to consider how similar their work and that of real prostitutes could be—not that I expect the politicians to be happy at the comparison. It’s also a rather topical subject, as our politicians are doing an investigation into prostitution, despite having already decided that it’s a “Bad Thing”, as Sellar and Yeatman would have it.
Prostitution can be defined as the selling of sexual services, usually by a woman, for a consideration, usually money. By extension, it’s also ‘someone who offers their skills, effort or reputation for unworthy ends’. Prostitution comes from the Latin, meaning ‘to set up for sale’.
In legalise, the definition of a prostitute, as someone who sells sex, includes the words ‘arbitrarily’ and ‘indiscriminately’, though it is recognised that these are not absolute modifiers, rather they indicate a very significant trend; that is, there is some room for the seller’s agency.
Let’s look at the idea of selling a service. There was a by-election in the English parliamentary constituency of Newark recently; this was caused by the resignation of the incumbent, who had been severely chastised by a committee of the House of Commons for his unprofessional conduct. What had he done? He had been secretly filmed agreeing to ask questions in the House in return for payment. He wasn’t by any means the first politician to be caught by undercover journalists investigating ‘cash for questions’ scandals. At least he resigned once his fate was certain. But it was all about the money.
And then there were the problems with floating duck houses and the cleaning of a moat. The Daily Telegraph reported some years ago on strange things that (honourable) members of parliament were claiming for. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have either a duck pond, nor even one large enough to float a duck house in; and neither is my house surrounded by a moat, and certainly not one that I think should be cleaned at taxpayers’ expense. But there were MPs who did so think. There was an investigation, at the end of which some members of both the commons and the lords were convicted of criminal fraud, and spent time, involuntarily, as the guests of Her Majesty. Remember, these politicians are the ones who pontificate and who make the laws by which we are all expected to live. But then, hasn’t it always been one law for them and one for us? I digress.
That’s not all; what about the Whips? I’m not thinking about sadomasochism here; Whips are members of a political party in parliament whose job is to ensure discipline in the ranks, to ensure that members of their party abide by the rules, and do as they are bid. They can do this by threats; for instance, if a member is a renegade, he or she is most unlikely to get into any position of power, any political office; or by bribery—toe the line, and you might well find yourself in office. So, you could say they operate through a mixture of inducement and coercion. Eh?
There’s another group of people, typically men—who, in Ireland, are typified as being of Slavic origin—who apparently control vast numbers women for their own profit. They do this by bribes and threats. These people are called ‘pimps’, and they import or traffick these unfortunates from abroad. Oddly, despite police searches, very few—in any— such women can be found, though we are regularly told that they must number in the thousands. Equally strangely, those opposed to prostitution never produce a repentant pimp, though they have many ‘repentant prostitutes’. You could almost believe that pimps don’t actually exist.
So, what’s the difference between someone who sells a service for money, and someone who sells a service for money? One is honest and upfront about the transaction, the other has to be discovered by undercover investigation.
And, what’s the difference between someone who controls others by inducement and coercion, and someone who controls others by inducement and coercion? One of them is the almost completely imaginary product of an overheated, prurient imagination; the other is real.