Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Liberty, dignity, health and happiness: ten ideas for the prostitution debate


This is a plea for liberty, dignity and for critical thinking. This plea presents an aspect of personal freedom, and then offers ten theses along various lines, with an aim to encourage disinterested ones to take a position, and to persuade those opposing that particular freedom to reexamine their convictions.

One aspect of human societies that is the focus of recent debate is prostitution. Quite independent of the opinions one may have regarding prostitution, much of the debate around it appears not to have the hallmark of sophistication and critical thinking. Let us now investigate ten aspects of, and issues associated with, prostitution and the debate around it, touching on themes of personal liberty, human dignity, art, ethics and health.

First thesis, the "Vague, extensible boundary" thesis

Second thesis, the "Thin edge of the wedge" thesis

Third thesis, the "Fight slavery, not liberty" thesis

Fourth thesis, the "Basic need for human intimacy" thesis

Fifth thesis, the "Denial of a fundamental pleasure" thesis

Sixth thesis, the "It depends upon the hourly rate" thesis

Seventh thesis, the "Petty jealousy of the wretched" thesis

Eighth thesis, the "Restriction on art" thesis

Ninth thesis, the "Sub-optimal trading terms" thesis

Tenth thesis, the "Healthier, freer, happier society" thesis

First thesis, the "Vague, extensible boundary" thesis

The term “prostitution” is open to broad interpretation; therefore, the implementation of a ban on prostitution, can, and probably will, trample upon other fundamental freedoms, even if a given society may have chosen to ban only prostitution.

Let us consider a working definition: “Prostitution, mass noun: the practice or occupation of engaging in sexual activity with someone for payment.” This definition from the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that said paid sexual activity needs to happen regularly for it to be considered prostitution. Therefore, a one-time, or perhaps even four-time, exchange of sexual favors for payment, would not qualify as prostitution.
Other philosophers are stricter: "the act or practice of engaging in sexual intercourse for money". This definition from dictionary.com would mean that even a one-time exchange would qualify as prostitution. Note, however, that “money” has replaced the more general "payment". Therefore, exchanging sexual favors for a promotion at work, or the awarding of a contract or rental accommodation, would or would not constitute prostitution, depending upon which definition one picked. On the other hand, note also that “activity” has been replaced by “intercourse”, therefore, sexual-foreplay-for-money would appear to not be prostitution!
Must one, both or all parties need to be in a state of complete undress for an accusation of prostitution to be brought? Are there certain parts of the male and female bodies that must be uncovered for the charge to hold? What if there is no physical contact of skin, hair, teeth, or any other part of the human body between the parties? What if no sexual climax is achieved? Would that still be prostitution? Would paying someone for the right to gaze upon their visage for twenty minutes in a closed hotel room constitute prostitution? Or ought suchlike to be banned as perversions that no good Christian could possibly countenance? Remember, it was not so long ago that pre-marital sex was considered a perversion, as was the holding of opinions that went against Rome.
What of strangers who meet in a bar, have a few drinks, one mentions the ability to invite the other to a private party in a grand mansion, and that invitation in return for sexual favors – would that be prostitution? What if one hands over cash at the end of the evening, perhaps calling it taxi-fare – would that be prostitution? Remember, products, services and even monies have been exchanged for the sexual act in this hypothetical example. Or are we now in danger of outlawing casual sex between adults who have met on the day, or general frolicking? This example should help to refute any charge of ostensible pedantry.

Second thesis, the "Thin edge of the wedge" thesis

Even apparently distinct personal freedoms tend to be interrelated in practice; attempts to remove them often proceed by degrees, in order that it may be palatable till it is too late; making prostitution illegal might lead to other freedoms being dismantled.

It would be so much simpler if we all had the same taste, the same ideas on how humankind ought to live, and the ability to produce only similar ideas. Such a society would be the dream of Koestler's commissar. Koestler suggests that human societies continuously alternate between free ("yogi") and rigid ("commissar") systems, as a pendulum swinging between extremes. From our knowledge of world history, we ought to be able to place various societies along the pendulum's arc. We might find that societies that segregate public washrooms based upon ethnic origin, or persecute homosexuals, also tend to have limits on freedom of speech, and are generally removed from those societies which allow individuals to choose and propitiate any God. The same retrospective might suggest that freedoms are typically stripped away in stages, either by decrees that are initially only temporary, or apply at first to only certain trades, political ideologies or races. The banning of prostitution, and the attendant persecution of those who seek to satisfy a human instinct, those who seek a fundamental human pleasure, those who seek human intimacy, those who wish to improve their lot, and those who seek to improve society’s, may be lamentable in itself, but, worse still, it might be the starting point for the removal of other personal freedoms. The secret police’s functionaries rummage through all epistles, ostensibly because the ones with references to piracy might otherwise escape them.
Part of this paper was written on one of the world’s most popular mobile devices. The word-processing software bundled with the phone suggests spelling corrections for words that do not appear in the dictionary. However, “orostitution”, “prodtitute”, “sodpmy”, where only a single letter was out of place, seemed to stump the software. Large, for-profit corporations now decide which words of the language may be encouraged, and which are inacceptable. Ah, Orwell, you would have been wealthy, if you had gambled on horses!
One hears of unmarried Ukrainian and Russian women being denied business travel to certain Islamic states unless accompanied by a father or brother. This may or may not deter prostitution, but it certainly does curtail personal liberty, gender equality and human dignity. One is reminded of the economics textbook which suggested that even if Pakistanis are consistently better than Jamaicans at repaying loans taken out to start small businesses, the bank may not deny loans to Jamaicans. But perhaps it is evident to some that the solution is to put up a sign: “Jamaicans not welcome”. Empiricism: 1 – Liberty: 0.

Third thesis, the "Fight slavery, not liberty" thesis

Prostitution, perhaps also due to outdated sexual prudishness and sexist bias, has not generally seen the modern improvement in working conditions common to many other professions; prostitution is often enmeshed with violence, slavery and other assaults on human dignity and freedom; yet, these are not inherent to prostitution; one observed reaction is to fight slavery by, curiously enough, taking away freedoms, instead of defending freedoms.

Supply chains with one end in slavery and exploitation, and the other on the high street, are not a modern phenomenon. Voltaire told us a couple of centuries ago of the true price of sugar in Europe: a partially eaten African man. However, that is no argument to ban sugar; rather, it is an argument to ensure that commonly accepted standards of safety, fairness and dignity are more stringently applied across the board. Rumor tells us of young people from India and the Philippines who move to work in the Arabian Gulf, driven by economic pressures. We are told of squalid living and deadly working conditions, but perhaps not often enough, and not loudly enough. Again, this is no argument to cease the construction of football stadia or luxury hotels, or to disallow the flow of labor across borders.
The image of young, uneducated, destitute women being forced into exploitation of the most disgusting kind quite understandably shocks. The questions it raises have to do with abduction, with a poor job market, with inadequate subsidies to education, with a high cost of living, with the illegal avoidance of taxes, with public health violations, with physical violence and coercion based on threats of physical violence, with illegal imprisonment, with depressed salaries, and with gender inequality – all these are important, urgent issues for any society, but none are necessarily, specifically related to prostitution.
It is certainly conceivable, and perhaps also a reasonably easy to verify fact, that an adult human engaging in prostitution can work in an environment which is not just safe but also comfortable, be treated with respect and friendliness on the job, be compensated at rates much higher than the average adult worker, choose clients on a case-by-case basis, and withdraw from the profession at any given time.
Prostitution in many cases is linked with exploitation and slavery. But let us rather fight exploitation and slavery – and not by taking away freedoms, but by increasing them, and defending those freedoms. It must be possible to buy T-shirts in London without causing the deaths of desperate Bangladeshis, surely.

Fourth thesis, the "Basic need for human intimacy" thesis

Occasional human physical contact and proximity of the tender variety is indispensable to the human condition; in many societies, this may only be available to some through payment; to ban prostitution is to condemn such vulnerable humans to a veritable hell.

Human societies have long experimented in ways of controlling and destroying the human body and spirit. One innovation is solitary confinement, where the human subject is deprived of other human contact, but kept alive through the regulation of nutrients and temperature. The pleasures that sages have seen in the face of solitude notwithstanding, this is considered a terrible state. Innovation we have labeled it – but it is not unrelated to millennia-old ideas of exile and ostracism.

Let us move closer to our times. Much of art over the past couple of centuries has grappled with the ideas of alienation within a city teeming with humans. In the urban centers of today, it is possible to live in an apartment block and not know the neighbors; to go to work in a pepper-spray factory or anti-establishment bookstore with a hundred others and not have more than a cursory acquaintance with even a few; to not understand the language of the majority; or to be native but without companionship.

Religion and art – and perhaps religion is art – may provide succor, but perhaps not always. In such a circumstance, and this circumstance is probably not the absolute exception, might not a visit to a prostitute be redemption, where one may enjoy the soothing touch of human skin, and hear words of endearment and acceptance? – and this quite independent of sexual desire. Ah, but those sweet nothings are not true, say those who claim to read minds? When may they be true, how can we ever know the truth of how another feels, how long must two humans know each other before the State will allow one to claim to love the other? Some kinds of massage parlors might serve the purpose, but all kinds of massage parlors will be ordered shut, mere months after prostitution is banned. To prohibit prostitution is to potentially deny human beings the fulfillment of their basic need of a human caress, of human warmth, of human intimacy – a grim fate indeed.

Fifth thesis, the "Denial of a fundamental pleasure" thesis

The sexual act and concomitant activities are associated with one of the greatest pleasures that it is generally possible for humans to experience; prostitution is an easy and safe way to access this pleasure; for some, the only way; to ban prostitution would be to deny many a fundamental pleasure.

Sexual pleasure, along with its physiological acme, the orgasm, is perhaps one of the oldest and most intense pleasures known to mankind. To impede its widespread, nay, universal, availability, and to deny human beings this fundamental pleasure, can only be pathological cruelty.

Furthermore, what of those who wish to learn how to derive and give pleasure during and through sexual intercourse? Desirable as this ability is in itself, it is also one of the crucial aspects of many long-term adult relationships. The existence of the Kamasutra and rumors of an entire industry that produces related video material notwithstanding, this would be easy to acquire through recourse to prostitution. The common analogy in such cases is the difference between reading about how to ride a bicycle, and the practical experience of actually mounting one and moving one's legs.

Sixth thesis, the "It depends upon the hourly rate" thesis

A part of the aversion to prostitution is linked to the extent of monetary or non-financial compensation awarded to a prostitute for his or her services, and is not specific to prostitution, as it applies much more broadly, across many professions.
Consider a prostitute who earns more than a neurosurgeon, say 0.4 million Dollars every year. She has a spacious, modern house on the river, goes shopping on the main boulevards of Milan and Paris, donates ten thousand to give more of the world's poor access to a decent toilet, and enjoys solving crossword puzzles whilst exercising.
Now consider another prostitute, one who offers his services for 0.01 Dollars an hour. This sum, incidentally, can buy a cup of tea in some parts of the world, but would not take one very far in Milan or Paris, at current rates of exchange.
The first case is by no means unrealistic, if uncommon, and would place our hypothetical prostitute far above the mass of mankind, as far as some aspects of quality of life are concerned. The second case is unrealistic, given that one could typically earn a far higher sum even by singing poorly in a public square, or by scouring busy boulevards for inadvertently discarded coins. What reasons could we possibly have to stop either our first or our second protagonist from engaging in prostitution, for, quite obviously, neither is driven by economic pressure of the grossest kind? That it is not good for their souls, or for those of their clients – for we know what is good for the souls of humans, and what is not?
            Consider also that many societies insist upon a minimum wage, because they believe that human labor must be compensated adequately, if not necessarily appropriately. Hand-pulled rickshaws on the streets of Calcutta may scream out desperation and exploitation – but mostly because they are poorly compensated. If paid well, and fully accepted into society, they might well be a stylish – because quaint – form of low-carbon transportation. Rickshaw pullers would be able to take adequate breaks, not have to haggle over fare, be dressed appropriately for the weather, have access to a nutritious diet, have dedicated lanes on busy streets, trained in the best way to pull, and have access to medical check-ups and insurance, et cetera.
Does at least part of the popular backlash against prostitution have anything to do with the hourly rate, which when moved upwards or downwards, but more realistically upwards, would obviate the opposition?

Seventh thesis, the "Petty jealousy of the wretched" thesis

Some of the opposition to prostitution stems from those who are old, ugly, unshapely, unwhole, weak, diseased or wretched, and would deny the pleasures of intimacy and beauty to others, out of a base sense of jealousy; some others oppose it, but oppose it only for the masses, for they themselves have the means to access the same pleasures albeit cloaked in other guises.

It is conceivable that some of those who will disallow human beings from enjoying the joys of human intimacy and sexual activity might do so because they themselves are condemned to a life of chastity, dreariness and isolation, through self-imposed barriers of some morality or taboo. It is more than conceivable that those who are old, ugly, unshapely, unwhole, weak, diseased or wretched themselves would not care that others enjoy the pleasures of youth and beauty. Some slaves would rather support slavery, for they themselves are too scared or weak to break their own chains, and resent those who make the attempt. Indeed, they invent and support moral values that would see chains strengthened. They would ban dancing too and every other affirmation of life, and they will do so after they manage to pervert the language itself, to twist what is healthy into what is immoral, to banish and revile beauty and its contemplation, and to suppress the natural desires of adulthood. We must turn away from these deniers of flesh and health, from these deniers of the earth with their promises of imaginary beyond-worlds, where true believers are to find compensation for their partially self-willed abstinence in this world.

Of course, this is not to suggest that those who are bland and unattractive might not have an objection to prostitution that does not stem from jealousy – for the mind of man, as that of woman, is inviolate.

But let us go further – what of those who enjoy the pleasures of sensuality but would deny it to others? What of those who have the means to command informal harems through political, corporate or religious rank, or to buy diamonds for mistresses and cars for toy-boys, or even to tip cabin-boys and cleaning-maids heavily? They would easily be able to sneak themselves past anti-prostitution legislation that applies only to the less privileged of their tax-paying compatriots. Also against such must freedoms be defended.

Eighth thesis, the "Restriction on art" thesis

Much of visual art concerns the human form, and some deals with the representation of romantic love – and this has been the case across millennia; this typically involves paying men and women to pose and act out scenes of human behavior, in various stages of undress, occasionally in contact with others, all of which is not far from the basic idea of prostitution; to ban prostitution would be to suppress this genre of art, a genre that is often to be seen even in the most conservative of art galleries and temples.

Art seems to play a reasonably important role in human societies. Although human societies have often made an attempt to suppress and control art, these are typically societies which care little for human freedoms. To absolutely deny prostitution would also be to restrict artistic creativity, for one would scarcely be able to pay a gentleman or lady to sit around on a stool naked, and turn a certain way at command, or hold a certain pose, in a locked room, while their portrait was painted, without opening oneself up to a charge of prostitution. Given that many oil paintings in many art galleries of the West depict naked boys and women, this would be a bit of an issue.

The same problem surrounds depictions of sexual or amorous activity in photography, film or sculpture, for there is no essential difference between paying a human to lie naked on top of another human and simulate the sexual act, and prostitution. But perhaps we can also ban the production of some forms of art, and all of pornography; or to allow only those with a license for art to dabble with people-paid-to-do-things-naked – that would do the trick. If, that is, the trick was to live in a society increasingly bereft of freedoms. Note also that the representation of the human form in art is by no means an esoteric niche; neither is the representation of romantic love, of the giving and receiving of embraces and kisses – that is, people paid to embrace and kiss other people, which sounds at least a little similar to prostitution.

Incidentally, some artists, now much acclaimed, would certainly approve of prostitution: Pushkin, van Gogh, Bizet, say – and many, many more of defending prostitution. But we do not need their approval, as Nietzsche might point out.

Ninth thesis, the "Sub-optimal trading terms" thesis

In this world of limited resources, many people try to improve their lot through engaging in trade; among others, the marketplace pays for the mechanical skill of a surgeon, the creative output of a poet, and the skin tone of a shampoo model; all of these occupations require effort, but also have an element of chance, in terms of access to education, access to audiences, and genetics; to ban prostitution would be to force some humans to participate in the marketplace on sub-optimal terms, with this unfairness perhaps drastically reducing the quality of their life.

Prostitution, as we know from its definition, may be considered an occupation. As a prostitute, one offers services or time, and receives compensation. Typically, possessing beauty, youth or age, language skills, accent, a certain look, hair, polished manners, and certain bodily dimensions, and so on, may play a role in influencing compensation.
We live in times where some societies pay attractive men and women to model hats and lingerie, or to advertise slimming butter substitutes – the main qualification for which jobs is the physical appearance of their bodies. Therefore, it would appear we have no compunctions in the body being used to earn a living – at least, that is the case in societies which typically enjoy more freedoms than others.
To ban prostitution would be to deny a handsome, young gentleman or a mature, elegant lady the right to earn their living through an occupation they may have chosen. How do they now earn their livelihood? Perhaps the man works as a doctor, and the woman becomes an advertising executive – assuming, of course, that they have the educational qualifications, skills, access to education, aptitude, motivation, and access to a functioning job market. If not, they can relatively easily learn the art of grilling burgers or directing people to their seats in baseball stadia. This, however, would probably drastically change their hourly rate, as far as financial compensation is concerned.
In some cases, it would take away their chances of acquiring an education, or a benefactor, that might help to improve their quality of life. It reeks of unfairness that those who have a comfortable existence through their degrees in medicine from the University of Tokyo, or because they have married a Senegalese heiress, or are a Senegalese heiress, should deny less fortunate others a way of earning their own livelihood and improving their lot, especially if these others have been blessed in being healthy, beautiful and charming, say, but not in some other ways.

Tenth thesis, the "Healthier, freer, happier society" thesis

The need for human intimacy and the desire to have sex are both fundamental to the human condition; alienation and sexual frustration of individuals are detrimental to the community; criminalizing prostitution will typically make it unhealthy and dangerous, and deprive the community of its fair share of taxes; prostitution can afford safe, pleasant and convenient access to human intimacy and sexual pleasure; a society which allows and encourages prostitution will be freer and boast of healthier, happier citizens.

For how much violence, pettiness and ill-humor is sexual frustration and alienation responsible? We shall never know, but we may guess that it can only be unhealthy. But let us move away from the negative aspects of a ban, and focus instead on the positive aspects of a society where prostitution is mainstream, even acceptable as urbane, adult dinner-table conversation. Imagine a world where adult individuals have safe, pleasant and convenient access to the basic human needs of intimacy and sexual pleasure; a world where prostitutes are full-fledged members of society, and are treated with respect and dignity; a world where the prostitute and his or her prospective client together set the boundaries and price of their interaction, with both retaining the right to reject outright any interaction at all, and safety, dignity and transparency being the cornerstones of that interaction; a world where adult individuals have the choice to improve the quality of their life through participating in a relatively low-skill, high-pay trade – surely, such a world must be freer, healthier and boast of happier denizens.

Note also that, even if prostitution is made illegal, the various reasons that have contributed to its continued existence over many centuries will not vanish overnight, for some are a fundamental part of the human condition. A society where prostitution is concealed through subterfuge and hidden behind dingy curtains in dilapidated buildings, where victims of violence may not approach the civic authorities, where the public purse is cheated because of unaccounted payments, where emergency medical assistance may not be sought, where human dignity is sorely tried – in short, this is a society where humans are forced into the darkness. Of course, this is no objection that a large enough secret police and a network of labor camps will not solve, but we do not wish to be too close to Koestler’s commissar.


In the preceding analysis, we have avoided any recourse to statistics, or to any survey, or to any personal narrative. Personal narratives, surveys and statistics can all be very helpful to better understand any given phenomenon, but they can also be seriously flawed, intentionally biased, or relevant only for certain specific conditions – groups, locations and times. Our ten theses stand by themselves, in the sense that they are based upon plausible assertions, with ample use of “some”, “probably”, “perhaps” and other devices that aid their plausibility. They do not pretend to be a comprehensive review of that aspect of prostitution, personal freedom or critical thinking they concern themselves with, but they are ten ideas that must be considered before the reader chooses his or her stance.

To sum up, some of the opposition to prostitution appears to stem from jealousy and ressentiment, some from a false association with other social plagues, and some from repressive, anachronistic ideas of sexual morality. The main reason to support prostitution must be that it is a personal liberty and all personal liberties are important; to this must be added the vital role it plays in terms of addressing the fundamental human needs of human intimacy and sensual pleasure.

Martin Niemöller is often misquoted, but that is surely trivial. We look the other way when they come for the labor leaders, because we are not labor leaders, and we are not in need of their services. We look the other way when they open everyone’s private correspondence, because our activities are boring and we have no cousins who work in Israel. Let us not look the other way when they take away yet another freedom, let us not look the other way when they usurp the debate through parodies of rhetoric and loudness of voice, let us not bow down before the anger fuelled by base jealousy and outdated convention, let us not accept that a better world is impossible merely because it eludes us today, let us stay true to the ideals of liberty and human dignity.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

An examination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The United Nations' "Declaration of Human Rights" (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/) appears to be an excellent starting point to ensure freedom, dignity and artistic expression.

Closer examination, however, reveals the need for some significant changes. Most pressingly, the required changes have to do with confirming the right to live fully as an individual, gender equality, and to guarantee the right to human dignity irrespective of sexual orientation, intellectual ability, or accident of birth.

> Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Last resort? Rebellion must be the first response to tyranny and oppression. The thinking behind this clause appears to have been the ruling class worrying about the trough being knocked over, and not human dignity as being important in itself.

> Whereas Member States have pledged themselves.....

So, it's not universal, but is restricted to member states (http://www.un.org/en/members/index.shtml). Taiwan isn't a member, and Kosovo isn't either; South Sudan doesn't appear to be, and Guantanamo Bay is tricky.

> They (human beings) are endowed with reason...

What of those of us who are not endowed with reason? Are to be possessed of dignity? How shall reason be measured? Will agencies of the State carry out tests of reason? Will those who fail such a test be unworthy of human dignity?

> ...(human beings) should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

We must all be brothers, even the women amongst us. Or may we ignore the exclusion of the female gender? No, we may not, for this document of international relevance must get it right. Especially as Articles 10, 11 and 12, to cite a few, insist upon the use of the male pronoun, to the exclusion of the female.

Article 25, on the other hand, goes the other way, with its protection of widowhood, but not of men bereft of their, presumably female, mates.

> Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

What about disability, caste and sexual orientation? Can any or all of these be grounds for exclusion from our brotherhood?

What about age? Do these rights apply only to "adults"? This latter point is especially relevant as certain articles specifically refer to the age of the human.

> No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy,....

Even in the most prosperous, liberal parts of the world, individual privacy is under threat today. This article could do with some strengthening: e.g. to link privacy with the core of human dignity. We have enough accounts of the so-called re-education camps of the previous century to support this demand.

> Everyone has the right to a nationality

That is a good thing. However, the point must be explicitly made that human beings, irrespective of the state of their papers and whether their police-issued documents have expired or not, are to be treated with dignity. Nations are temporary political constructs, and are by no means essential to, or sufficient for, human dignity.

> The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

This is a little scary, as it clearly implies that single women and men are an abomination. They must find mates. The State will protect the family? Will it also insist upon the family dining together, and co-habiting?

> Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

This convoluted sentence essentially implies that those born in parts of the world that are not doing well economically will just have to go without human dignity. The feeble "international co-operation" bit falls far short of placing the burden of ensuring human dignity and freedom in all member states on all member states. The next step would be to extend to all humans, irrespective of whether or not they can be proven to belong to, or live in, a member state.

> Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

I wonder if "scientific advancement" also refers to medical care? Will all human beings have access to the latest medicines and expert care?

In conclusion, this declaration needs significant and urgent overhaul. If we must pay for diplomats, then let there be increased chances of freedom and dignity, and for all.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The (A) Liberal Manifesto

1. Do not be absolutely sure of anything.

2. Accept claims at face value, if provisionally. Insist on style and evidence, whenever convenient. 

3. Applaud skepticism. Defend those who demand proof. Be automatically suspicious of unanimous opinion, bearing in mind that the majority may occasionally be right. 

4. Remember that statements and acts belong to a specific context. 

5. Often, there is little difference in value between a truth and its exact opposite, or between what did happen and what might have happened. 

6. Crassness may possess deliberately concealed subtlety. Always assume this to be the case. This will make the world even more attractive. 

7. Boundary conditions are another country. This is especially comforting when one is thrown into a filthy transport towards a prison camp. 

8. There exist closed systems; these do not entirely admit critical questioning. Respect them, as indeed everything else, as achievements of human imagination. 

9. All values, including the most deeply cherished ones, are arbitrary; assuming we admit arbitrariness in human affairs. 

10. No one is entirely good, or entirely evil. Also, at least some of human activity takes place beyond good and evil. 

11. Delightful and vital as privacy and solitude are, the universe has a right to your attention. This right expires with the end of the universe, or your demise, whichever occurs first.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

First iteration of the imperative

To extend the frontiers of the race’s knowledge through discovery or creation, and to do this unrelentingly – that is the imperative.