Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dworkin's Book That I Haven't Read

A recent conversation with Ajay in a Barnes and Noble yielded a shared revelation.  We discovered the existence of a whole new genre of book to add to the list of those which are just not worth reading.  I have in mind the short book written by the "senior academic," on the basis of a set of lectures or a magazine article, which conveys a single and obvious and already universally-held idea-- usually the idea that is already apparent from the title.  One feels as if one has exhausted its content from looking at the front cover.  And if one has a blog and is a snot-nosed peddler of opinions, one feels justified in writing about such books without having read them-- maybe on the basis of a few reviews.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sex Work and the Left

Driving in the car last night I caught an episode of Latino USA on NPR which concerned (among other things) sex trafficking in the United States.  When I tuned in, the host, Maria Hinojosa, was speaking to a pseudonymous male sex worker and activist who was making a broad case for de-criminalizing the sex trade-- though decriminalizing exactly what and for whom was not entirely clear from the brief interchange.  The activist, who went by Andy, began by stating that as a teenager, he had been compelled by circumstances to seek "protective" sexual relationships with adults-- in exchange for money.  He wasn't clear about what those circumstances were, but we can imagine them -- homelessness, isolation, abusive parents-- the lack of any adult figures, in short, who are supposed to protect children in our society without demanding sex (rape, let us be clear) in exchange.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Casino (1995): A Review

The mob movie's hold over the American psyche has its obvious explanations.  Money, sex, power, and the ability to physically dominant and intimidate others-- some part of ourselves always wants these things-- wants them unblinkingly-- and we will always enjoy possessing them vicariously through fictional characters.  But there are plenty of other realms where these things are equally abundant, but which we aren't as hungry to inhabit.  Nobody ever made movies about the binges and excesses of the Cold War power elite, say (The Resistible Rise of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has yet to find a studio).  The boardrooms of Reagan-era financial firms only seem to have provoked contemptuous satire (American Psycho) and moralizing criticism (Wall Street).  It seems the appeal of the mob movie has to do with something more deeply rooted than naked bodies and dollar signs.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Crime and Agency

One of my recent-ish posts on this blog addressed itself to retributive theories of justice.  I argued that "retribution" has no legitimate role to play in our theories of punishment, because it rests on the notion that the infliction of suffering on a wrong-doer can somehow serve as compensation to a victim.  In short, it implies that the suffering of the criminal is good as suffering-- a notion that very few of us would accept, when shown in this light.   In conversation and elsewhere, my co-blogger Ajay raised some interesting objections to the post, however-- not, I believe, on the basis of the argument so far, but on the step I made next.  I went on to argue-- or at least, to imply with gestures difficult to mistake-- that there can be no case in which punishment is good in itself.  Punishment is violence, after all, though we are apt to forget it in a society that has abolished the lash and the knout and the rack (though it holds on to the syringe and the solitary cubicle).  The act of depriving someone of her or his freedom is a violent one, and imprisonment is coercive by definition.  My suggestion in the post, not fully spelled out, was that such violence can never be justified on purely deontological (Kantian) grounds-- meaning that punishing someone is never a way of treating her as an "end" rather than a means.