Thursday, September 20, 2007

Marriage and Morals, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 (pages 145-155); “Prostitution”

Russell places the prostitution chapter fast upon the heels of the marriage chapter, which in itself might be revealing. Indeed, he sees marriage and prostitution, under the traditional moral code, as being inextricably linked. If importance is placed upon the “virtue of respectable women,” Russell writes, then prostitution will supplement (or be a piece with) marriage. Moralists might like to believe that if men followed their advice, all would be well – but they know that men will ignore their advice, so it is irrelevant to speak of what would occur if men were to follow the moral guideposts.

Despite the extremely useful social service she provides, the prostitute (since Christian times) has been despised. “The real offence of the prostitute is that she shows up the hollowness of moralistic professions [pp. 146-147].” Sacred prostitutes used to be valued and respected. But with the Church came suppression and a commercialization undertaken to profit the keepers of prostitutes, not the women themselves.

Russell suggests that prostitution is declining (except in South America, citing a recent study) because women have more economic opportunities available and because non-prostitutes are more willing to have extra-marital sex. Russell thinks that prostitution cannot be extirpated, but that there are three good reasons for wishing to minimize it: (1) public health (the most important reason); (2) psychological harm to women; and (3) psychological harm to men.

Venereal disease is spread via prostitution, and attempts to control it via registration have been unsuccessful while occasioning poor treatment of prostitutes and other women by authorities. VD could be combatted better with more information about precautions, but the belief that such knowledge might encourage sin restricts the spread of the necessary guidance.

Prostitution under current circumstances presents “an undesirable kind of life [p. 150].” Besides the risk of disease, it is demoralizing, and promotes excessive alcohol use. Others find prostitution despicable, and it is contrary to instinct (like being a nun, Russell says). But in Japanese circumstances, prostitution is not an undesirable career. Given that prostitution will survive, it is better if it occurs in circumstances like those in Japan, and not those in Europe. The amount of degradation of prostitutes is inversely related to the moral strictness in a society.

Men who are habituated to hiring prostitutes come to think that they do not have to be pleasing to have sex, and at the same time, they are likely to adopt the usual contempt for prostitutes. There will be bad effects, whether a man makes his marital relations more like his relations with prostitutes, or tries to differentiate them further. In the latter case, the man might become incapable of having sex with someone he loves; in the former case, he will forget that his wife needs courting.

Sexual relations involving economic motives tend to be disastrous; they evince a lack of “that respect for the human being as such, out of which all true morality must lie [p. 153].” If a sensitive man engages in such sex (either with prostitutes or within marriage) to satisfy physical urges, he will be led to remorse, which in turn will disorder his “judgments of value [p. 153]”. There is probably, in total, more undesired sex undertaken by wives than by prostitutes.

“Morality in sexual relations… consists essentially of respect for the other person, and unwillingness to use that person solely as a means of personal gratification, without regard to his or her desires [p. 153].” So even if we take away the degradation and unhealthiness from prostitution, it should still be minimized.

The old argument for prostitution as a form of harm reduction loses force with the new moral code, since non-prostitutes can satisfy male urges in freely formed relations. “The new freedom between young people is, to my mind, wholly a matter of rejoicing, and is producing a generation of men without brutality and women without finicky fastidiousness [p. 155].”

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