June 30, 2018

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“Not everyone can be a prostitute,” one of my fellow panelists piped up. “It takes skill.”

“I am sure it can be taught,” I said. “The unemployed could be sent for sex-work training. It surely wouldn’t take long to learn.”

My audience proved its intellectual gravitas by not laughing. Indeed, a member of the audience, a self-proclaimed madam of a Thai brothel, informed us that in Thailand there was indeed a training school for prostitutes. Whether it issued diplomas—elementary, intermediate, and advanced—and who, if any, the examiners were, she did not inform us; but again, nobody laughed. On the contrary, the audience seemed to think this was a jolly good idea. It would raise the general standard of sex work.

There is nothing so absurd that some philosopher has not said it, said Cicero two millennia ago, so perhaps my feeling was mistaken that, for the first time in history, we have reached a stage of absurdity in which a reductio ad absurdum is no longer viable as a rhetorical maneuver, for there is nothing so absurd that everyone recognizes it as such. On the contrary, one man’s absurdity is another man’s possibility or even truth. Nothing can be ruled out without argument.

In Scandinavia, for example, it is legal to sell sex but not to buy it. This is surely intellectually corrupting. I hesitate once more to refer to the Bible, yet is it not written (and with cause) “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil”?

In my medical career I had as patients quite a few prostitutes, who varied from those who were paid in cigarettes behind the rubbish dump to those who flew round the world first-class flogging men at their destination (judges and politicians, mostly, but probably the ones who deserved it least). I cannot say that I felt any great moral outrage against them—and they varied in personality from the pitiable to the charming and amusing, none of them striking me as really wicked—but I could not see them as moral heroines, either, and I cannot bring myself to call prostitution “sex work.” Surely we can sympathize personally with people without having to pretend that what they do is admirable?

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